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Guest post by Ashutosh Munshi, head of the Edelman Consumer Marketing practice (South Asia, Middle East & Africa) and director of Creative, Planning and Content (India).

At Edelman, we realize that at the heart of the Indian consumer market is a central paradox, with an ancient culture and celebrated history to boast of. The country is occupied by the youngest citizens in the world – they are modern, yet curiously steeped in tradition and often skeptical of the pitch of marketers.

A part of this very population is a generation that has witnessed some of the greatest changes in India (post-Emergency) that have made a big impact on their lives, values and philosophy. A generation that has witnessed several years of global, economic and societal change and have emerged as a proud, confident, unconventional and determined lot. It is the attention of this generation that brands today are vying for.

Often, as marketers, the more we spend our time trying to position brands in the hearts, minds and lives of customers, the less we seem to stay personally connected to the real hearts and minds and lives of customers. We sit at our desks. We search for clues in data. We see customers as a collection of numbers that indicate market potential; we think about them in the context of finite purchase occasions. We work very hard to understand people as “consumers” and we get lost in the middle of it – chasing trends, chasing platforms and chasing competitors. People become an abstraction as we strategize.  In the process, we forget the simple magic and the responsibility of truly getting to know customers as people and, in this part of the world, as people who have lived through extraordinary change.

Words of a Generation was developed as a framework to use ethnographic exploration to understand the societal and individual changes that affect the needs, desires and values of today. This February, as elections and the future of the country weighed heavy on the hearts of people across India, we traveled to their homes. We filmed in-depth interviews with participants on themes ranging from love to dreams, consumption to connection, where the past, present and future perspectives of interviewees were explored.

Words of a Generation: India is a seven episode film series that explores the lives of 10 Indians born after the’75-’77 Emergency. Defined as India’s “Crossroad Generation,” the films are personal portraits of people who grew up in an India that fundamentally questioned and challenged many of the basic foundations on which previous generations lived their lives. They learned to walk as India opened to the world. They experimented with adolescent identity, as an explosion of media brought new ideas about life and love. They embarked on new careers as India’s economic rise encouraged them to take risks their parents might never have considered.

Our participants described the experience of seeing their parents live by society’s rules while a “sea of transformation” around them encouraged a “soft rebel” to be born. They shared intimate accounts of their own struggles for independence and space. They described the jealousy of social happiness, the confusion of choice and the pressure of a life where they are “always running.” They questioned the true meaning of “value and tradition” in a society where they sometimes find “less commitment in a committed relationship,” growing issues with corruption and gender inequality and escalating tensions surrounding religion and caste.

In all of their interviews, they spoke proudly of a new India that is a “land of opportunity” while questioning their role in an India that “is not actually new India”; an India that “is somewhere in the middle of going in the right direction and something pulling it back.”

By committing this series to video, we allow these insights to be seen and heard. We use film as our medium because we didn’t want you to read their stories in a report. We wanted you to see them, to feel the emotion behind their words, to get a personal window into their homes and lives.

This Edelman series approaches understanding from a human perspective rather than simply a consumerist viewpoint. This is not a study or a survey. It is not prescriptive and while it is an exploration of the generation, it is an exploration of the personal views of 10 people from the generation, not by any means encompassing an entire generation’s point of view. This is a starting point for a much bigger exploration and way of exploring.

We have, through this project and projects like this, given ourselves the space to respect the confusion that exists in real life and to explore the nuances and questions within the broader issues and desires that surround the people we spoke with.

Accordingly, the Words of a Generation film series delves deeper into discovering the real people behind trends, societal problems and commerce as well. Each episode is crafted after taking hundreds of pages of transcripts from our interviews with participants, cutting each line into tiny, individual strips of paper, standing back and looking for the story that emerges from their words. We search for the differences that define an individual and the generation as well as the universal similarities that resonate across individuals, generations and cultures. In the end, Words of a Generation shows up as a set of seven films, a few hundred photos and a story of change from 10 people who have lived it.

We invite you to experience the stories of Aditi, Anjali, Arvind, Charu, Kirthi, Manil, Medha, Nidhi, Varun and Raghav, 10 people from India’s “Crossroad Generation.”

https://vimeo.com/100306641